Monday, 14 April 2014

Behind The Photo: Bob Hope Invades Winnipeg (1953)

Often I will see an old photo or ad and spend some time digging into the back story. Sometimes I find a great story, sometimes not. Either way, I learn a few things about the city's history. Here's my latest attempt:

What a Hope: Gag Virtuoso Invades Winnipeg
April 29, 1953, Winnipeg Free Press

This photo, one of a trio in the April, 29, 1953 Winnipeg Free Press, shows Bob Hope on the tarmac of the Stevenson Airfield (Winnipeg International Airport). He had just arrived on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to do a show.

February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

This wasn't his first time here as Hope appeared at least once during his vaudeville career. This time, however, he was as a star of radio, television and movies and just a month earlier had hosted the first-ever televised Academy Awards ceremony.

Greeted by fans and media at the airport, he had a Provost Guard motorcycle escort straight to his venue: The Amphitheatre. There, he took time to talk to the press, sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, including the St. James Canadiens, before his show later that night.

The entourage included Frank Morriss, entertainment columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He related a few of Hope's quips including:

Hope: I once played the Orpheum Theatre here, but that was years ago. By the way, where’s the Orpheum ?

Reporter: It was torn down.

Hope: They were thinking about doing that the night I played there.

Amphitheatre, Winnipeg

As for his impression of the old Amphitheatre, he opened his show with the line "I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be playing this lovely garage". From there, it was a combination of music, dance and comedy mixed with other acts such as a roller skating duo, a local orchestra and Betsy Duncan, a singer from Hollywood and co-star on Hope's radio show. 

Hope was likely the last big entertainer to play the Amp. It was torn down in 1955 after the Winnipeg Arena opened.

It was on this visit, which only lasted a few hours as he was on a plane gain at 9:30 p.m., that he received a special invitation. He explains in his 1954 biography Have Tux Will Travel, (p. 230):

"Of the memorable things which have happened to me on a  golf course, the round I played with Ike Eisenhower in 1953 is the topper. In 1953 I was in Winnipeg, Canada, when Stu Symington called me long distance and asked, "Can you be in Washington on Derby Day?" 

"I was planning to be in Churchill Downs with Bill Corum that day," I told him.

"Better switch it," he said. "You're going to play golf with the man in the White House."

Hope ca. 1953

Of course, this brings up another Winnipeg / Bob Hope / golf connection: the claim that he played his first game of golf right here in Winnipeg. You can read more about the golfing claim in my post here !

Bob Hope official site (including jokes !)
Subsequent Bob Hope visits to Winnipeg
Did Bob Hope really play his first game of golf in Winnipeg ? (coming soon)

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